FleaPlus (6935) writes "This week the White House issued a veto threat over the Commerce/Justice/Science spending bill currently being debated by the House of Representatives, in large part due to its cut to commercial crew funding. The current House bill decreases NASA's overall budget and commercial crew spending while increasing spending on the shuttle-legacy SLS rocket. Language in the House bill also tells NASA to end the ongoing milestone-based competitive development in the commercial crew program, and to instead switch to a single provider using 'traditional government procurement methods.'" Link to Original Source top
Congress Warns NASA About Shortchanging SLS/Orion for Commercial Crew
FleaPlus (6935) writes "NASA and the White House have officially released their FY2013 budget proposal, the first step of the Congressional budget process. As mentioned previously on Slashdot, the proposal decreases Mars science funding (including robotic Mars missions) down to $361M, arguably due in part to cost overruns by the Webb telescope. The proposal also lowers funding for the in-house SLS rocket and Orion capsule to $2.8B, while doubling funding for the ongoing competitive development of commercial crew rockets/vehicles to $830M. Ranking member of the Senate science committee, Sen. Hutchison (R-TX), expressed her frustration with 'cutting SLS and Orion to pay for commercial crew,' as it would allegedly make it impossible for SLS to act as a backup for the commercial vehicles." Link to Original Source top
FleaPlus (6935) writes "At a talk at the National Press Club, SpaceX's Elon Musk revealed the company's plans for making their Falcon 9 rocket fully reusable. A rendering depicts the first stage, upper stage, and Dragon capsule all separately returning to the Earth's surface and making a controlled rocket-powered landing. During the next few years SpaceX will be testing VTVL maneuvers and reusability with their Falcon 9-based 'Grasshopper' testbed, with up to 70 test launches per year. Musk stated that if reuse is successful it would result in a 100x reduction in their already-low launch costs, a key step towards Musk's long-term aim of lowering the price of a ticket to Mars to $500K." Link to Original Source top
FleaPlus (6935) writes "Besides using the SpaceX Dragon capsule to deliver supplies to the ISS this year and astronauts in following years, the company wants to use Dragon as a platform for propulsively landing science payloads on Mars and other planets. Combined with their upcoming Falcon Heavy rocket, 'a single Dragon mission could land with more payload than has been delivered to Mars cumulatively in history.' According to CEO Elon Musk, SpaceX is working with NASA's Ames Research Center on a mission design concept that could launch in as early as 5-6 years." Link to Original Source top
FleaPlus (6935) writes "Continuing last year's successful CCDev (Commercial Crew Development) program, NASA has selected 4 companies to receive "CCDev2" seed funding for commercial crew systems. The companies will only receive money if they meet development and testing milestones in the next year, with up to $75M to SpaceX for developing their sidemount escape system and testing their Dragon capsule, $92M to Boeing for developing their CST-100 capsule, $80M to Sierra Nevada Corp.'s DreamChaser top-mounted spaceplane, and $22M for Blue Origin's capsule and pusher escape system." Link to Original Source top
FleaPlus (6935) writes "Utah congressmen Orrin Hatch, Bob Bennett, Rob Bishop, and Jim Matheson issued a statement claiming that NASA's design process for a new congressionally-mandated heavy-lift rocket system may be trying to circumvent the law. According to the congressmen and their advisors from solid rocket producer ATK, the heavy-lift legislation's requirements can only be met by rockets utilizing ATK's solid rocket boosters. They are alarmed that NASA is also considering other approaches, such as all-liquid designs based on the rockets operated by the United Launch Alliance and SpaceX. ATK's solid rockets were arguably responsible for many of the safety and cost problems which plagued NASA's canceled Ares rocket system." Link to Original Source top
FleaPlus (6935) writes "According to transportation economists studying the issue, the TSA's new whole-body imaging techniques and enhanced pat-downs are likely to cause more people to use road transportation as an alternative to flying, which in turn may lead to more American deaths due to road travel being much more dangerous by the mile than air travel. This is in addition to the 1 in 30 million risk of getting cancer from one of the new scans, a risk roughly equivalent to the probability of one's plane being blown up by a terrorist." Link to Original Source top
FleaPlus (6935) writes "The BBC reports that the space agencies of Europe, Russia, and the US are in (very) preliminary discussions about a potential collaborative mission where astronauts would assemble a small spacecraft at the ISS, then fly it around the Moon and back. This is somewhat similar to previously-proposed commercial missions, with many elements adapted from spacecraft systems already in existence. This would also be a testbed for eventual asteroid and Mars missions, which would likely require modules to be launched on multiple rockets and assembled in space." Link to Original Source top
FleaPlus (6935) writes "NASA is spending a total of $475,000, split between Masten Space Systems and John Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace, for a series of seven test flights of the companies' reusable suborbital rockets over the next several months, going to altitudes as high as 25 miles. NASA's goal is to foster a more cost-effective and flexible way to conduct microgravity and upper-atmosphere research. Jeff Bezos's suborbital spaceflight company Blue Origin has also been making steady progress this year on their $3.7M contract to test pusher-escape system and composite pressure vessel technologies, which NASA is interested in for orbital spaceflight." Link to Original Source top
FleaPlus (6935) writes "At the recent Joint Propulsion Conference, SpaceX's rocket development facility director Tom Markusic unveiled conceptual plans for how its current Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 commercial rockets can be evolved into heavy-lift rockets, ranging from a Falcon X capable of lifting 38,000kg to orbit, up to a 140,000kg Falcon XX (more than either the Saturn V or the 75,000kg shuttle-derived rocket Congress currently plans on having NASA spend >$13B building). SpaceX presentations also discuss a new Merlin 2 heavy-lift engine, solar-electric cargo tugs, adapting their current engines for descent/ascent vehicles fueled by Mars-derived methane, and a desire for the government to take the lead on in-space nuclear thermal propulsion while commercial focuses on launchers. In a recent interview, SpaceX CEO/CTO Elon Musk expressed his goal of lowering the price of Mars transportation enough to enable early colonization in 20 years, and his own plans for retiring to Mars." Link to Original Source top
FleaPlus (6935) writes "Although commercial launch providers have been used for all US national security and unmanned science missions since the 1990s, plans by the White House and NASA to do the same for crewed missions are facing continued problems in Congress. While the White House originally sought $3.3B over 3 years to jump-start commercial crew vehicle development by multiple providers like SpaceX, Boeing, and the United Launch Alliance, the current bill in the House would cut this amount to $150M. The House bill would put the removed money from commercial crew and technology development towards $13.2B in development costs for a government-operated shuttle-derived launcher and crew capsule. The White House, SpaceX, and others have offered tentative support for a Senate bill which would put 3-year commercial crew funding at $1.3B." Link to Original Source top
FleaPlus (6935) writes "Six weeks after the first launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, the first stage of the second rocket has finishing production/testing, and has arrived at Cape Canaveral for a launch as early as September, depending on the pace of a methodical review of the Dragon capsule systems and minor rocket modifications/fixes being made based on data from the inaugural launch. The rocket will launch the first operational unmanned Dragon cargo/crew spacecraft into orbit, where it will perform tests and then reenter off the California coast. CEO/CTO Elon Musk made the intriguing remark that Dragon's heat shield is strong enough to enable a return not only from Earth orbit, but also lunar orbit or Mars velocities as well." Link to Original Source top
FleaPlus (6935) writes "The German Aerospace Center is planning to launch a novel reusable spacecraft in 2011, incorporating flat damage-resistant tiles. Nitrogen will be pumped through the porous tiles, creating a protective gas layer that actively cools and shields the hottest parts of the spacecraft from the searing heat of reentry. The 12.5M-euro unmanned 'SHEFEX II' project is a major technological step towards the team's eventual goal of a reusable space glider which will be cheaper and easier-to-build than NASA's space shuttle." Link to Original Source top
FleaPlus (6935) writes "NASA has announced three new 'Centennial Challenge' technology prizes totaling $5M, awarded via competitions to achieve technological goals important to NASA: The $2M Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge for launching small satellites (at least 1kg) into orbit twice in one week, the $1.5M Night Rover Challenge for demonstrating a rover capable of storing and using solar energy over day/night cycles, and the $1.5M Sample Return Robot Challenge for a robot capable of locating and retrieving identifiable geologic samples in varied terrain without human control or GPS. This is in addition to the ongoing Strong Tether, Power Beaming, and Green Flight Challenges. The White House is currently seeking to boost funding for Centennial Challenges and other NASA technology programs, although many in Congress have other plans." Link to Original Source top
Senators Want Big Rocket, Not NASA Tech/Commercial
FleaPlus (6935) writes "Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation are drafting a bill (due this week) which slashes NASA technology development/demonstrations, commercial space transportation, and new robotic missions to a small fraction of what the White House proposed earlier this year. The bill would instead redirect NASA funds to 'immediate' development of a government-designed heavy lift rocket, although it's still unclear if NASA can afford a heavy lifter in the long term or if (with the new technology the Senators seek to cut like in-space refueling) it actually needs such a rocket. The Senators' rocket design dictates a payload of 75mT to orbit, uses the existing Ares contracts and Shuttle infrastructure as much as possible, and forces use of the solid rocket motors produced by Utah arms manufacturer ATK." Link to Original Source top
FleaPlus (6935) writes "Following up on a story a few days ago about an unmanned Russian cargo ship's initial aborted attempt at docking with the International Space Station, the vehicle made a second pass on July 4 which succeeded. Russian engineers believe the initial abort was triggered when the (normally reliable) Progress spacecraft detected interference between a remote control system on the ISS and the Progress's camera, and successfully docked on the 2nd try by using the autonomous system instead." Link to Original Source top
FleaPlus (6935) writes "Boeing has released a number of new details on the development of their CST-100 manned space capsule being developed in collaboration with commercial space station builder Bigelow Aerospace. Competing with SpaceX's Dragon capsule, the vehicle is designed to be compatible with existing Atlas V, Delta IV, and Falcon 9 rockets, and is planned to carry 7 people in a capsule 'a little smaller than Orion, but a little bigger than Apollo.' Funding was jump-started this year with $18M of fixed-price Commercial Crew Development funding from NASA, which requires completion of several fabrication and demonstration milestones this year (heat shield, escape system, landing tests, etc.) in order to get the full payment." Link to Original Source top
FleaPlus (6935) writes "Following up on the successful first launch of their Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX has signed a $492M deal for launching several dozen satellites for the Iridium NEXT constellation, the biggest commercial launch deal ever (teleconference notes). This is a needed boost for the US launch industry, which has dwindled to a fraction of the international market due to problematic ITAR arms regulations and high costs. SpaceX's next launch is scheduled for later this summer, carrying the first full version of the Dragon reusable capsule, which will run tests in orbit and then splashdown off the California coast." Link to Original Source top
FleaPlus (6935) writes "In a surprise move in the battle between NASA and certain members of Congress over NASA's future direction, NASA has told its contractors to cutback nearly $1 billion on this year's Ares/Constellation program, stating that the cutback is necessary to remain in compliance with federal spending laws requiring contractors to withhold contract termination costs. While complying with budgeting laws (and in line with NASA's desire to cancel Constellation), this move is also potentially in violation of a 2010 appropriations amendment by Sen. Shelby (R-AL) and Sen. Bennett (R-UT) which prohibits NASA from terminating any Constellation contracts. If NASA's move goes through, the biggest liability is $500M for ATK, the contractor who is/was responsible for the first stage of the Ares I medium-lift rocket." Link to Original Source top
FleaPlus (6935) writes "The Japanese interplanetary spacecraft IKAROS, the first spacecraft to use solar sailing as its main propulsion, is in the middle of a slow and careful deployment of its 0.0075mm thick, 20m wide solar sails. If it's successful in deploying its sails, IKAROS will spend six months traveling to Venus and then journey towards the far side of the Sun. Also, Japan's Hayabusa probe is on its way back from its dramatic 7-year mission to the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa. Before it disintegrates in the atmosphere, Hayabusa will drop a capsule containing a sample of the asteroid into Australia's Woomera test range on June 13, where a crew aboard a NASA DC-8 plane will study and attempt to broadcast live video of the reentry." Link to Original Source
Tim O'Reilly has a post about how the prominent scholarly journal Nature has recently launched an open-access service called Nature Precedings for pre-publication research and presentations. All content is released under a Creative Commons Attribution License, and can be commented and voted on. The service will cover research in biology, chemistry, and earth science, much like arXiv.org does for physics, mathematics, and computer science.
Robert Bigelow has announced a price of $15 million for a four-week trip to one of the private space stations Bigelow Aerospace will deploy, with a price of $3 million for an additional four weeks. This drastically undercuts the Russian Space Agency's $25 million price for a week or two on the ISS. Bigelow also stated that interested countries and companies could lease an entire in-orbit research facility for $88 million/year.
Kotaku has an article on the role the PS2 game Shadow of the Colossus plays in Adam Sandler's new drama film, Reign Over Me. The article discusses how the game paralleled the film's themes, and how the movie may be the first to 'deal with games thematically and intelligently.'
Wired reports on a glove developed by Stanford researchers Dennis Grahn and Craig Heller which combines a cooling system with a vacuum in order to chill blood vessels and drastically reduce fatigue. Besides the obvious military and athletics applications, the technology is also potentially useful for firefighters, stroke victims, and people with multiple sclerosis. The Wired article also describes a number of other human enhancement projects, many of which were opposed by the President's Council on Bioethics.
(I have some concerns about their methodology, but it's still an interesting story)
Besides the obvious exercise benefits, it seems that the Dance Dance Revolution video game may also help out children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A recent study in which sixth-graders with ADHD played DDR Disney Mix for an hour each week suggests that playing the game improved their focus and attention, although further studies are planned to get a better understanding of how it could help kids out.
At a recent talk, Michael Griffin outlined NASA's plans for helping to generate a robust and competitive commercial market in orbital spaceflight. The speech and Q&A transcripts from the talk are available. In a move reminiscent of the US government kickstarting the early airline industry by purchasing airmail services, NASA plans on supplementing government-derived transport by purchasing cargo delivery services to the International Space Station from commercial providers, followed by crew transportation after the systems have proven themselves. Unlike traditional government contracts, sellers wouldn't see a profit before the services are delivered and the emphasis will be on actual performance instead of process and specifications. Aviation Week has some commentary on the announcement.
Two prominent science fiction authors have released their newest novels as free downloads (in addition to bookstore physical copies). The first is Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, by Cory Doctorow. This is an unconventional story about an entrepreneur (who happens to be the child of a mountain and a washing machine) who gets involved in a scheme to blanket Toronto with free wireless mesh network, among other things. The second is Accelerando, by Charles Stross, which tells the tale of three generations of the Macx family (beginning with perptually-slashdotted venture altruist Manfred Macx) in the years leading up to and beyond a technological singularity. To help provide more info on certain technical topics from Stross's novel, I've started up a Technical Companion on wikibooks.
Video Games Live, a rather atypical concert event, starts this Wednesday at the Hollywood Bowl. For the concert (mentioned a couple months ago on slashdot), the 105-piece L.A. Philharmonic will be performing over 20 pieces of video game music, including soundtracks from Mario, Zelda, Sonic, Castlevania, Warcraft, and Metal Gear Solid. Flashier aspects include a light-show accompanying Tron music and a full choir singing themes from Halo. It's hoped that the concert will help introduce more people to live orchestral music, as well as raise awareness of the often-ignored qualities of video game soundtracks. The concert is the first leg of an 18-city nationwide tour.
Although events such as SpaceShipOne's suborbital spaceflights and the upcoming maiden launch of SpaceX's privately-built Falcon I orbital rocket have resulted in many conflicting predictions about the future of the commercial space market. The Space Review has an article which proposes using information aggregation markets (also known as idea futures or prediction markets) to aggregate the forecasts of professional and armchair experts. These types of markets, where traders essentially 'put their money where their mouth is' and profit from accurate predictions, are arguably the most effective means of predicting future trends and events. Possible securities could include the predicted launch costs, the strength of carbon nanotube cables, and the number of private astronauts in a particular year. With such a system in place, entrepreneurs, investors and policy makers would have more reliable information on what to expect from commercial space activities and how to best invest in them.